Caribbean Bookshelf (Winter 1993)

Roundup of books about the Caribbean


The Golden Quest

Michael Anthony (Macmillan, Paperback 1992)

In this Columbus year with its torrent of Columbus books and films, there has been a dismal silence from most Caribbean scholars about the navigator’s complex and dubious achievements. On the whole the region has been content to leave the fractious disputes between Columbus’s fans and his detractors alone, and to sit on the fence celebrating “five hundred years of achievement”. Novelist/historian Michael Anthony’s new book, sub-titled The Four Voyages of Christopher Columbus, is described by the publishers as “the first book about this extraordinary man … to be written from a Caribbean perspective … with due regard for the viewpoint of the native peoples who, one might say, discovered Columbus and his ships.” It is a very readable introduction to Columbus’s travels with some illuminating detail, though Anthony does not press the case against Columbus for his treatment of the region’s original settlers very hard.

Witchbroom

Lawrence Scott (Allison & Busby, hardback 1992)

In this hugely ambitious first novel, Lawrence Scott sets out to tell four of five centuries of history in a rich, magical and far from historical style. Much of the book consists of tales told by the narrator Lavren–a haunting figure who moves across race, time and gender–bringing vividly to life various phases of the complicated and eccentric story of the family called Monagas de los Macajuelos, and through them the history of the island of Kairi where they settled in the dim and distant past after leaving the continent of Bolivar. Lavren’s tales move from the earliest Amerindian days to the present, J’Ouvert morning and the curious legacy of “the Third Most Intelligent Man in the World”. Along the way it takes in a vast range of Caribbean experience, from rat cheese and guava jelly to pan music and murky political scandals. The book is a glorious repossession of the past by a Trinidadian writer so far too little known through his short stories. Scott has studied his Salman Rushdie and his Gabriel Garcia Marquez carefully, and his style and treatment is very much in their magical realist tradition, which lends itself well to recapturing the baroque dramas of the Monagas. Which also means this is not a book to skim through during one afternoon at the beach.

Caribbean Islands Handbook 1993

ed. Ben Box and Sarah Cameron (Trade & Travel Publications, hardback 1992)

The 1992 Caribbean Islands Handbook was completely sold out by summer, testifying to the usefulness of this annual regional guide. The 1993 edition, published on September 1, has again been extensively updated–there were special research visits to Jamaica, Barbados, St Lucia, Cuba, Belize and the Turks and Caicos Islands. The book is probably the leading tourist guide to the region now, a winner of the Thomas Cook Best Travel Guide Award and with the endorsement of the Caribbean Tourist Organisation. It covers all the English, Dutch, French and Spanish speaking islands, including Bermuda and The Bahamas, and provides thorough travel information on each country, from detailed touring routes to instructions for the purchase of stamps. Despite its 800 pages, it is light and portable. As they say about a famous credit card, don’t leave home without it.

The Estates Within

Eden Shand (Caribras, Port of Spain, paperback 1992)

Eden Shand was a government minister in Trinidad and Tobago when Muslim rebels burst into the parliament chamber on July 27, 1990, in an attempt to overthrow the government. He was one of the parliamentarians who went at gunpoint through the trauma of the five-day siege that followed. An actor as well as a professional forestry consultant, he left politics soon after. The Estates Within is a play, described as a docu-drama, that loosely reconstructs events inside the Red House during these five horrendous days. A fiction based on fact, it seeks to recreate what Shand calls “the essence of the historical moment”, taking liberties with actual details of characters, words and events. The result is a script that avoids predictable outrage in an attempt to understand not just what happened but why. The book is available from bookstores in Trinidad and through the following: New Beacon Books, 76 Stroud Green Road, London N4 3EN; Third World Books, 942 Bathurst Street, Toronto, Ontario M5R 3G5; and University Place Bookshop, 821 Broadway, New York, NY 10003.

The Trinidad and Tobago Field Naturalists’ Club Trail Guide

Paul Comeau, Louis Guy, Ewoud Heesterman, Clayton Hull (TBT Field Naturalists’ Club, Port of Spain, paperback 1992)

If you’re hiking Trinidad and Tobago’s nature trails these days, you can start out remarkably well briefed. Hot on the heels of the revised Nature Trails of Trinidad–reviewed in the last issue of BWee Caribbean Beat–comes the Trail Guide compiled and published by the indefatigable Field Naturalists’ Club, whose regular expeditions have introduced generations to the pleasures of these Trinidad and Tobago trails. This is a much bigger book, 288 pages, complete with cartoons by artist Dunstan Williams and produced by J. C. Williams. It covers 48 trails in Tobago as well as Trinidad, complete with maps and detailed instructions. There are also sections on the local environment, first aid, equipment, safety precautions and suggestions for further reading.